Law Enforcement Degrees and Careers

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Law enforcement is more than just a concept. It’s a crucial part of our society. Police officers and state troopers prevent, detect, and investigate crime, and apprehend criminals in neighborhoods like yours all across the country, so there’s no denying their importance.

Law enforcement is carried out by more than just patrol officers—those men and women who protect and serve in our communities—and all the way up to detectives, criminal investigators, forensic analysts, and FBI agents. But no matter what their job title, they all share one goal: protecting us from harm and pursuing wrongdoers.

This is a great job for people who want to make a difference. And one of the best ways to prepare, especially if you plan on working up the chain of command, is to get a degree in criminal justice or a law enforcement degree online.

What Law Enforcement Professionals Do

Most police officers patrol their cities and towns, and investigate suspicious activity. They warn, cite, or arrest people who break the law. They respond to emergency calls and may give first aid since they’re often the first responders at accidents.

Police officers also conduct traffic stops and give tickets, obtain warrants, arrest suspects, write reports, and testify in court.

Law enforcement officers work for cities, counties, states, and the federal government (the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Secret Service, and more).

The daily activities of police and detectives vary depending on their particular specialty, such as special weapons and tactics (SWAT), arson, homicide, missing persons, vice squad, bomb squad, canine unit (K9), narcotics, and more.

It’s a challenging career; no two days are the same. You’ll get a sense of doing good in your community, it’s well paid, and, if you have the aptitude and desire, you’ll love your work.

Keep reading to learn what skills and training you need to become a police officer or detective.

Skills You’ll Need

To be a police officer, you’ll need the following personality traits and qualities:

  • A desire to serve the community
  • A good memory
  • You can take and give orders
  • You’re fair and reasonable
  • You like to be in control
  • You’re organized
  • You’re practical
  • You’re even-keeled

Salary Comparison

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries do vary greatly depending on location, years of experience, and several other factors. Compare the median annual salaries of law enforcement agents with other related professions.

Career Median Annual Salary
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers $64,610
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $83,640
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $60,250
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives $99,330

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics

The salary information listed is based on national median salaries, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Outlook

7% Job Growth

There were over 795,000 police and detectives in the U.S. in 2020, the last year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has data. Employment is expected to grow 7% through 2030, as the BLS predicts that continued interest in public safety will lead to new job openings for police officers. But it also says that some jobs may be competitive, depending on where they are.

Many large police departments are always looking for good men and women to join the force. Check online to see if your local police department is hiring.

There are also job opportunities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, Federal Air Marshals, and the U.S. Border Patrol. Check with each agency to see whether it’s hiring.

Program Overview

Regardless of the law enforcement degree you pursue, there are several things you’ll always study. These all lead to one goal: making you the best law enforcement officer you can be.

These specialized criminal justice degree programs ensure that you understand applicable laws, and can support individuals’ civil rights while also protecting the community you serve. Whether your goal is to enter the field with an associate’s degree or earn a master’s in criminal justice and pursue a career in administration, you’ll learn skills to make you an effective advocate for your community and the law.

You’ll learn about the criminal mind, search and seizure, the laws of evidence, and more.

What You’ll Study:law enforcement degree online or in the classroom will give you the knowledge and skills to excel on any police force. You’ll study subjects like criminal procedure, law, and ethics—although there are many, many more—in a law enforcement major.

FBI Degree Program Length: The FBI is always looking for qualified special agents to serve their country. Basic training for the FBI takes place at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to start, then FBI training takes about 800 hours and includes academics, case exercises, firearms, and operational skills. Learn more about FBI training, or read this interview with an FBI special agent.

Online Degrees: If you have less ambitious career goals than becoming an FBI special agent, you should still remember that many law enforcement agencies now require some college.

The most logical degree for you is an associate’s degree in law enforcement. An associate’s only takes two years, so this could be the quickest college education you can get to give you a competitive advantage.